I work with a manager who has a solid employee we’ll call Christopher. During Chris’ annual performance review this year, he broached the topic of receiving a promotion. Chris does a good job, but frankly, it isn’t anything out of the ordinary that’s promotable. He works 9-to-5 and does what is required, but he never really goes that extra mile. Chris isn’t a mentor to junior team members. He rarely works late. He doesn’t apply strong critical thinking to his work. And, as a result, he has missed some key opportunities.
The manager asked why he felt he should receive a promotion, and Chris responded, “Well, I’ve been doing this job for a long time.”
An employee who thinks they deserve a promotion just because they’ve put in the time is misguided. The challenge for employees is that managers may not always provide exact guidelines to achieve a promotion, so the route can be unclear. Although every company is different, here is some advice to help you be more promotable.
1. Avoid entitlement to be more promotable.
One of the biggest mistakes people make when they’re trying to get a promotion is assuming they deserve it. An attitude of entitlement about receiving a promotion, even if it is deserved, is never going to work. That “give me” monologue, without any substance to back it up, is a demand without a selling point or display of your skills.
Entitlement can also cause you to focus solely on the promotion instead of what you need to do to get it. When you think you’re so great that there should be no doubt you will get the promotion, you may be ignoring any feedback previously given to you about what it will take to get that position.
Another potential misstep to being more promotable people may make is bypassing their managers to kiss up to more senior leaders, all in an attempt to show off or demonstrate their value. Leaders always notice this kind of behavior, but not necessarily for the right reasons. Whether the direct manager, the senior leader or both are noting this sneaky strategy, it may backfire and paint you as manipulative.
2. Know your why.
You may feel as if a promotion is the next logical career step and start moving blindly in that direction without putting thought into what that promotion would mean. Before you lock your sights on a position, take time to decide what you want and why you want it. If you don’t know your why, a promotion just for the sake of a promotion may lead you down an unfulfilling path.
Examine your motivation for wanting to be more promotable. Are you looking for a better title, more money, increased power, career advancement, additional responsibilities, team management, a learning opportunity or something else? And how will the position satisfy these desires?
Then, examine the position. Setting aside your desire for the title, consider the responsibilities of the job and how much time you will spend doing each of the tasks required. Is the job going to call for late nights? Spill over into weekends? Require you to be on call? What additional skills does the job require, and how many do you possess? What people and organizational skills will you need in this position? Will you be comfortable with that responsibility?
Once you’ve taken the time to fully assess the position and your motivations, and if both fall into line, it’s time to take steps to get noticed.
3. Go the extra mile to be more promotable.
Your boss may expect you to put in extra hours, take on additional responsibilities without being asked and anticipate project needs, but doing so may also get you noticed. If you don’t step on toes, you could even start doing some of the job responsibilities of the position you’re seeking before you get the promotion. One of my clients had an aspiring young employee who wanted a promotion to a position that didn’t yet exist. When his boss pushed back and said he wasn’t ready, the employee came prepared to his annual review with a list of tasks he was already doing to fulfill that job. The boss couldn’t argue since he was doing most of the job anyway, so the new position was created and he got the promotion.
4. Do your current job flawlessly.
You’re going for as close to perfection as possible. If you’re functioning on autopilot or even neglecting parts of your job, you may be giving the impression that your work is sloppy or that you just don’t care. And if you can’t shine in the position you currently have, why would a manager choose you for additional responsibilities? Doing your current job well is part of proving that you’re ready for advancement and makes you more promotable. I have a client who was recently passed up for a promotion due to the perception of poor administrative skills in her current job—a problem that could have easily been fixed with a little more attention to detail.
5. Be more promotable by asking for it.
Make your intentions known! If you want the promotion, make sure your manager knows. Ask what you need to do to get the job and get to work on those skills. Even if you don’t get it this time around, you will be identifying yourself as a potential candidate for future promotions or even another position.
6. Don’t be afraid to use a little self-promotion.
Remind your manager of all the outstanding initiatives you’ve accomplished on the job. Don’t expect your boss to know how great you are.
Making yourself promotable takes time, strategy, diligence and commitment. Take the time to define what you want so that you are crystal clear when you ask for the promotion. Don’t rely entirely on your own self-evaluation to accomplish this. Ask a trusted colleague or mentor for feedback and listen to what they tell you. A little self-awareness will go a long way.
Act as if you’re already in the job you want, not the job you have. Acquire the skills that you need. Take some of the load off your boss’ desk. Demonstrate creative problem-solving. And, most importantly, remember to ask. It would be a shame to do all of this work and miss out because you didn’t state your intentions.
This article was updated June 2023. Photo by Natee Meepian/Shutterstock